Shanghai at sunset Photo: Suicup

Air pollution reducing life expectancy by nearly 2 years

November 23rd, 2018

Air pollution is reducing life expectancy by nearly two years, a new pollution index has revealed.

The new index from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago describes air pollution as a more significant threat to human lives than smoking and even war.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution levels remain “dangerously high” in urban areas around the globe with nine out of every ten city-dwellers inhaling significant levels of air pollutants every day.

Some areas of the world are impacted more than others, the researchers found. In the United States, for example, life expectancy is cut short by just a few months by air pollution.

In China and India, bringing particulate concentrations down to the WHO guideline levels would increase the average life expectancy by 2.9 and 4.3 years, respectively, the index finds.

Particulate matter pollution is believed to be the deadliest form of air pollution due to its ability to penetrate into lungs and filter into our bloodstream.

Industrial Emissions Photo: Dirk Duckhorn

Industrial Emissions Photo: Dirk Duckhorn

European standards

Air pollution is the number one cause of premature death in Europe. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that poor air quality is linked to the premature deaths of around 1,600 Irish people every year.

A 2018 report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the bloc’s financial watchdog, found that most European Union countries are failing to meet the bloc’s air quality standards.

Exposure to high levels of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone contributes to 400,000 premature deaths annually across Europe, the report found.

The bloc air quality rules were set almost 20 years ago and ECA auditors found that some of them were much weaker than the WHO had previously estimated.

Ireland’s air quality is good by European standards, but it does not fare so well when measured against more stringent World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, according to the EPA.

Ireland exceeded WHO guideline values for PM10 and PM2.5 – very fine particulates smaller than 10 micrometres that can enter the lungs and cause major health problems.

Clean Air Strategy

In this light, the Green Party’s climate spokesperson, David Healy, urged the Government to finalise its highly-anticipated Clean Air Strategy.

“The Government consulted the public on a draft Clear Air Strategy in March 2017 but has repeatedly put off aggressing the strategy since,” Mr Healy said.

“There has been no explanation for the delay is finalising the strategy,” he continued.

Once finalised, the strategy is set to improve Ireland’s air quality by tackling the chief sources of air pollution in the country.

Mr Healy called on Minister for Climate Action, Richard Burton TD, to ensure the safety of citizens by curtailing carbon emissions “largely caused by the fossil fuel industry”.

“We call on Minister Bruton to take the important steps to protect public health in Ireland from air pollution, including rapid implementation of the nationwide ban on smoke fields which the Government promised last year,” he said.

Exhaust Gases Car Exhaust Fumes Grey Exhaust Auto Photo: Max Pixel

Health impacts

Earlier this year, US researchers found a “significant link” between air pollution and diabetes globally, even at levels deemed safe by authorities.

The study in The Lancet Planetary Health estimated that pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases globally in 2016, just under 15 per cent of all new cases.

Traffic-related air pollution in cities was found to hinder the brain development of children in a Spanish study of over 2,500 school children last year.

The study, which is part of the EU-funded BREATHE project, found that higher concentrations of traffic-related airborne pollutants reaching classrooms negatively impacted children’s performance.

From the 2,687 students involved in the study, those exposed to the highest concentrations of pollutants performed the worst in standard computer tests.

About the Author

Shamim Malekmian

Shamim Malekmian is a Cork-based freelance journalist and contributor to the Irish Examiner, Cork’s Evening Echo and The Green News.

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